Nielsen – which confirmed it was the victim of a ransomware invasion on Thursday – has not stated if its attackers made any such demands.

“These attacks can happen from the other side of the world and we are seeing an increase in sophisticated criminal syndicates operating ransomware attacks at scale,” said Rachael Falk, chief executive of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre.

These kinds of attacks are a game of numbers and luck.

Cyber-security expert Rachael Falk

“I’m unaware of the details surrounding the Nielsen attack but it follows several other high-profile ransomware attacks in Australia this year, which is a concerning trend. What it really illustrates is that even when the world is in the grip of a pandemic cyber criminals can operate effectively – they don’t even need to leave home.”

TV Tonight website editor David Knox described the attack as a “a curveball nobody needed” given Australia’s broadcasting industry has already suffered a pandemic-driven slump in advertising revenue.

On Sunday, Nine (the owner of this masthead) will launch the 2020 season of Australian Ninja Warrior against the debut episode of Farmer Wants A Wife on Seven. Both programs will compete head-to-head with 10’s Bachelor in Paradise, which began airing last week.

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“Television is a numbers game and millions of dollars are spent every day by advertisers reliant on performance measures,” Mr Knox said.“These three big-budget shows [are] now at risk of no immediate figures. If this drags on or compounds it could be catastrophic to the industry.”

But he speculated the delay could result in a “curious upside”.

“It harks back to the old ‘[paper] diary system’, where shows would have to wait six weeks before any numbers were delivered,” he said. “That allowed some shows to build an audience, and a little network faith, rather than see the axe fall within days of launching.”

Ms Falk said it was important that cyber-crime victims not accede to their attackers’ demands.

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“There is no guarantee this will fix the problem and could result in further attacks,” she said. “These kinds of attacks are a game of numbers and luck. What these criminals are looking for is system weakness … for the most part, the attackers have more interest in getting the ransom than any data they have encrypted and put out of reach.”

A Nielsen spokeswoman said the company’s priority is to “ensure that the environment is safe and to restore and release the overnight ratings”.

“This will be followed closely by releasing data for missing days,” the spokeswoman said. “We appreciate the industry’s understanding during this unprecedented situation. We will remain as transparent as we can with new information as it becomes available.”

Seven, Nine, 10, ABC, SBS and Foxtel declined to comment.

OzTam chief executive Doug Peiffer said: “This has been a tough week for everyone and Nielsen are working hard to resolve a very difficult situation … we thank our clients for their understanding while this is managed through.”

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